Fire in the gut

Acid reflux is often regarded as a consequence of eating a rich meal or having too much stomach acid, but in fact, contrary to popular belief, it is a symptom of not having enough. So how does it happen and what can we do about it?

Firstly, some sufferers have a thinning of the lining of their oesophagus, and produce less mucus which leads to the sensation of heartburn – it’s like having blisters on your toes, where you would feel pain only on walking.

Another cause of heartburn is with the reduction in muscle tone, this can be as a consequence of medication, diet, lifestyle or hiatal hernias. Certain foods like tomatoes, caffeine, alcohol, onions, choco-late, citrus fruit and peppermint are known to relax sphincters, as well as stress, our usual suspect, so avoiding these is a good start.

The majority of people that I see in clinic with heartburn, are suffering because of low stomach acid.

Stomach acid is like a bouncer in our body, al-lowing nutrients in but refusing the entry to bacteria and viruses from travelling further down through your digestive system. Imagine that this bouncer disappears from the door, and anyone is allowed in to the warm environment where they can live and be fed; who wouldn’t stay?

Without adequate stomach acid keeping invaders out, and digestion in tip top shape, opportunistic bacteria can have a party in your gut manifesting in conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Jaw dropping levels of bacteria are found in test results, are more often than not patients present with these conditions in clinic.

Low stomach acid will lead to intolerances and inflammation, shifting the microbial population from beneficial to non-beneficial. In addition to heartburn, it will lead to poor absorption of iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and B12, and these are extensively documented in scientific studies.

I see many people with B12 deficiency in clinic and it almost always has a common denominator, the use of acid blockers (Omeprazole, Esomepra-zole, Pantoprazole and others). These are common-ly taken for heartburn or acid reflux, however when stomach acid secretion is suppressed, it creates the perfect environment for bacterial overgrowth con-ditions in the GI tract.

One of my most used tools in clinic is a gut heal-ing protocol, but contrary to what many believe, one size does not fit all. Gut protocols are “individualised plans’‘, tailored specifically to the person, to achieve exactly what their bodies need. I support the mucosa of the digestive tract with demulcent herbs that have the ability to rebuild mucous membranes, one of my favourites is slippery elm. I also support the lower digestive tract with enzymes, L-glutamine, zinc L-carnosine, acetyl galactosamine, and always use therapeutic doses. Other nutrients might be needed to restore function and finally good levels of stomach acid.

Lack of stomach acid will lead to chaos in your gut, so try to drink less fluid with your meals as these dilute your stomach acid. Avoid those foods men-tioned earlier. Demulcent herbs will help to calm the fire in your gut, protecting the lining of your stomach whilst allowing enzymes to be produced.

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